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Olivia Hatcher

Mr. Rhodes

AP English Language and Composition

22 February 2018

A Career in User Experience Design

A young woman sits on the subway on her way to work, scrolling through the social

media feed on her phone. She swipes down to refresh the page, and a new post appears from one

of her favorite celebrities advertising a new line of shoes. Instantly intrigued by the look of the

shoes, the woman searches the name of the brand on her phone’s internet browser. Her face

brightens when the first result matches the name she searched. Upon loading the page, her face

falls. A jumbled mess of disproportionately large images and scrambled lines of text fill her

screen. The woman struggles to navigate the page for a few moments, but to no avail. In just a

few short seconds, she went from a potential customer to an individual unlikely to return to the

company in the future, all because the company did not optimize their website for mobile

devices. When a user has a negative interaction with a product, it results in an unfavorable

outcome for the company, but when a user has a positive interaction with a product, it can make

a world of difference. Those with a career in user experience (UX) design take an empathetic

approach to design and use specialized techniques in order to develop an end product that evokes

a positive experience within as many people as possible.

UX design fits into the broader category of web development. In the next decade,

officials predict the number of jobs relating to web development will increase by 15 percent, an

outlook much higher than the average of 7 percent (“Summary”). UX professionals, and most
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web designers in general, thrive in urban areas such as New York City, Seattle, and Los Angeles,

because these locations typically house the most technology companies and startups (Olson).

Nationally, a web developer earns an average of $72,150, but income increases in the more urban

areas (“Occupational Employment Statistics”). The average web developer in the New York City

area makes approximately $85,400, while in the Seattle area the yearly wage averages around

$95,600 (“Occupational Employment Statistics”). However, these urban regions also have a

higher cost of living. For example, in New York City, the cost of living more than doubles the

national average because things such as housing, utilities, and health care have much higher

prices (“Cost of Living”).

The education of a UX designer begins in college but never truly ends. Employers most

commonly require an associate’s degree, although requirements can range from a high school

diploma to a bachelor's degree (“How to Become”). UX combines different elements like design

and technical knowledge, and a good UX designer has a well rounded skill set pertaining to these

elements (Olson). A background in programming also provides a considerable advantage to

professionals in this career (“How to Become”). Psychology also plays an important role in this

career and having a basic understanding helps many UX designers excel. Very few schools offer

courses specific to UX, and taking one does not necessarily guarantee a career in the field

because the quality between these courses varies. Most current UX designers did not study to

become one, rather they entered the field after working elsewhere. As the field grows, switching

into a UX career has the potential to become increasingly difficult (Andrews).

Although UX design does not necessarily have one specific degree attached to it, certain

schools offer programs that teach skills important to the career. North Carolina State University
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(NCSU), a public school, offers bachelor degrees in Psychology, Design and Visual

Communications, and Computer Science, all of which would provide valuable skills to an

aspiring UX designer (“North Carolina State”). The average cost of attendance for an in-state

student at NCSU adds up to around $18,000 yearly (“College Search”). New York University

(NYU), a private school, offers the same degrees as NCSU, with the addition of a more specific

course in Web Page, Digital, and Information Resources Design (“New York University:

Studies”). Furthermore, NYU has an advantageous location because New York City attracts

many startup and technology companies with demand for UX design (Olson). However, the

average student at NYU pays a much higher price of almost $63,000 per year (“College

Search”). Many professionals in this career also continually expand their knowledge, because in

an ever-changing field, the majority of what they learn in college will quickly become outdated

(Olson).

The majority of the work UX designers do involves technology, and many examples of

their practices exist on websites and in mobile apps. The default fitness app on the Apple Watch

successfully incorporates slippy UX, a technique that minimizes drawn out interactions between

the user and the product (Fichter and Wisniewski 75). The app tracks the user’s performance

throughout the day in categories like movement, and displays the progress in minimalistic rings

that get the point across to the user without requiring much attention or time (75). Intuit’s

TurboTax website also uses UX principles, even though users typically do not have enjoyable

experiences while doing taxes. The designers take those negative emotions into account and

build around them in the software. When users do their taxes, the TurboTax screen greets them

and asks how they feel about doing their taxes with three possible responses, two of which have
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negative connotations. The developers at Intuit utilized emotional design to make the interaction

between the user and the software feel more human. By not trying to advertise doing taxes as an

enjoyable experience, they avoided making the program seem cold and robotic. Taking an

emotional approach helps businesses connect to customers on a deeper level, which has positive

effects (75).

Designers can create a user experience for any type of product, not just digital. To plan an

experience within a museum, a design team uses common UX methods like personas and

storytelling (Cristea 12). The museum planners take each persona into account and analyze how

each would interact with different aspects of the museum, and the information they will take

away from that interaction. Designers follow the personas through their journeys in a manner

similar to storytelling (12). Using UX principles in a physical context helps the team brainstorm

many different layouts and options for future exhibits (13). In a similar manner, designers of all

types of products can use UX methods throughout the creative process.

In order for a business to succeed, it must keep up with the constantly evolving needs of

the consumer. Many businesses choose to ignore the user’s needs in favor of tradition, but they

expect the user to stay loyal regardless. These companies do not understand that if they fail to

provide an enjoyable experience, users will leave without hesitation to find a product that suits

their needs (Solis 6). With the rise of technology and mobile devices, today’s consumers can get

almost anything they want, whenever they want, and businesses that do not keep up will suffer in

the long run (7). Ignoring user experience will only lead to issues for corporations, and for some,

it already has. Google lowers certain businesses in search results if their website does not work

on mobile devices and Facebook uses a similar strategy (6). These large corporations understand
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that neglecting the user’s needs leads to negative feelings in the user, preventing him or her from

coming to that business in the future. Google and Facebook know that an unhappy user could

also associate their names with a dysfunctional website, so they penalize companies that pay

poor attention to user experience (6).

Any successful business relies on customer loyalty. Companies pour money into

advertising and marketing strategies in order to catch a buyer’s attention. If that customer uses

the product and does not enjoy the experience, he will likely not return in the future. On the other

hand, if the customer has an amazing experience, he will go back for more, and possibly even

share the product with his friends. By creating an enjoyable user experience, a company can gain

a group of loyal customers who double as product advertisers. Unfortunately, many businesses

go about achieving loyalty in the wrong ways. Some rely on bettering customer service, others

focus their efforts on quality control, but without looking at the user’s experience as a whole,

nothing of importance will come from using these methods alone (“Customer Loyalty”​ ​35).

When the user comes away from an interaction with a company feeling delighted, he creates an

emotional bond with the business, and eventually establishes a sense of loyalty (35-36).

Designing for avid technology users does not have as many challenges as designing for

those less inclined to use technology, specifically the older generation. Gathering information on

that demographic can prove challenging to UX designers, because many older people have

trouble expressing opinions or feel uncomfortable sharing personal thoughts. Older people deal

with a new range of issues professionals seldom consider when designing for younger people,

such as loneliness and a weakening physical condition (Blythe and Dearden 21). The popular

mobile phone Jitterbug caters to the elderly and their needs, so that even those typically opposed
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to technology can stay connected. Jitterbug has an easy to maneuver interface that asks basic yes

or no questions to guide the user through certain tasks. This method avoids using navigational

tools such as icons that could come across as confusing to those with less technological

experience. The Jitterbug phone also has the option for the user to completely remove any

features, such as voicemail, they do not want. This gives the user freedom to personalize his

experience, and remove any elements that might lead to a negative or frustrating experience (“A

Cell Phone”). When designers consider groups that do not typically use technology, they provide

them with the chance to not only use it, but to enjoy it. Giving older people technology that

meets their needs allows them to function independently for a longer amount of time (Blythe and

Dearden 22).

Those with disabilities can also benefit from a well thought out UX design.

Approximately 19 percent of people in the United States over the age of 5 suffer from a

disability (So and Veneziano). The designer should strive to create features usable by all,

including those suffering from disabilities. Many different apps exist to help all people engage

with technology. An app exists to convert voice to text as a way to help those unable to type out

messages, and other features like pinch and zoom exist to help those who struggle to see clearly.

Many people have disabilities, and by empathizing with them and creating personas with

impairments, a designer can create a product that works for all demographics (So and

Veneziano).

The process of developing a satisfactory user experience has many steps. According to

the Elements of User Experience Model, the design process begins at the most abstract level: the

strategy plane (“Customer Loyalty” 37). When creating a product, a business establishes a set of
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objectives, but balances them with the needs of the users. In order to satisfy the user, the product

must help him accomplish his personal goals, while fulfilling his emotional expectations. The

business could aim to bring in a certain amount of money or reach a certain number of people

(37). In the strategy plane, designers assess the many different needs of both the business and the

user, and define the overall path of the product (36).

Following this, designers consider the different features a product will offer in order to

make up the scope plane. Scope encompasses both the functional and content specifications of

the product (“Customer Loyalty” 38). Functional specifications include all of the possible tasks a

user could complete using the product, including descriptions about how to access the features.

Content specifications consist of information the product conveys to the user. These descriptions

tend to take written form, but content could also exist as an image or in other forms (38).

Ensuring that the features in the scope fit the product can make or break its success. If the

different features do not correlate with what the user requires, he will not have an enjoyable

experience. On the other hand, if the features perfectly align with what the customer wants, he

will likely have a satisfying encounter with the company and come back (38).

At this point in the process, the abstract ideas start to become more concrete. In the

structure plane of the model, designers gather the ideas and outline the flow between them

(“Customer Loyalty” 38). In web design, the format of the information and the interactions

between the user and the website work together often. Information architecture (IA) refers to the

framework of the website and includes all of the different branches of information available (38).

When working with the interaction design side of the structure plane, the developer mimics how

a user would naturally go about accomplishing a task, resulting in an experience that feels
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familiar. Interaction design and IA could easily work together in many different areas of a

website, and using both optimizes the chance for a positive user experience (38).

UX practitioners must acknowledge the importance of information architecture,

especially when designing a website. IA can affect how the user comprehends the information

presented, similarly to how one might view a painting in an art museum with more admiration

than a painting in a hotel lobby (Arango et al.). Information should have an easily understandable

structure that aligns with the natural thought patterns of the user (“Customer Loyalty” 38). The

complexity of a human being proposes challenges to the designers trying to understand how the

mind works. People easily connect different locations and objects with a vast array of emotions

and actions, like associating bedrooms with rest and kitchens with nourishment. These

associations come from the objects in the room and one’s interpretation of them, and can vary

depending on the person and his or her background (Arango et al.).

Although not all aspects of physical and information architecture perfectly align, many

parallels exist. Similar to how a building architect works to create a space that fits its intended

function, an information architect aims to do the same in an online context. The user can

determine the environment of the website based on how the designer chooses to present the

information. An effective IA makes the distinction between a social environment and a

professional environment clear to the user. Many buildings have features that emphasize the

entrances in order to draw people in to the right place. In a similar manner, information architects

highlight the most important aspects of the website by including the most important links in an

easily accessible spot (Arango et al.).


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Once the UX practitioner thoroughly understands the information architecture and

interaction design, he can move on to the next level of the Elements of User Experience model.

The skeleton plane functions like a human skeleton; defining the shape of the experience.

Developers select different controls users will see and arrange them in a process called interface

design. The controls act as a vessel for the actions mapped out in the interaction design aspect of

the previous step. Similarly to how interaction design takes shape through interface design,

information architecture takes shape through navigation design. In navigation design, the

designer chooses features to guide the user through the information on the site by displaying the

choices available and helping him find his desired destination (“Customer Loyalty” 38). These

principles not only apply to web design, but also to the layout of almost any product. A book’s

table of contents, for example, parallels a website’s navigation design and could lead to a

satisfactory user experience. The table of contents could just as easily lead to an unsatisfactory

experience if it does not include key navigational factors like page numbers (39). How designers

shape the product in this step significantly impacts how consumers receive it.

The final plane most reflects what people think when hearing the words “design process.”

Designers wrap all of the previously discussed elements of UX into a visually appealing package

in the surface plane (“Customer Loyalty” 39). They add visual, auditory and tactile stimuli to

emphasize the more subtle appeals from other planes. Sensory appeal alone has the power to

form emotional connections between the user and the company (39). It may seem as if aesthetics

could drive most of the decisions made in this plane, but careful consideration must go into all

visual decisions because they must support the other elements in the model (39).
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The Elements of User Experience model covers many of the important steps in the

process of UX design, but other effective techniques exist to help the designer create an

enjoyable experience. People invest time in movies because of captivating stories. Designers

want users to engage with their product in a similar manner and in order to do so, must

intentionally build the product around the story (Lichaw 2). By combining realistic settings,

characters, and interesting plots, designers form a complex story that will help them create from

the user’s point of view (Gruen et al. 504). Using stories helps the team designing a product

visualize how someone might use it and acts as a catalyst for new ideas (507). Creating a story

for a product could also uncover potential errors that otherwise would have gone unnoticed, and

more importantly, ensures the product’s significance by gauging the potential impact. Although

this process does not have to include storytelling, it opens many doors for new ideas during the

initial stages of design. Following a character through a realistic storyline helps designers create

for actual human experiences, rather than guessing what a user might need and potentially

missing key details. Anyone can easily use this strategy because everyone has experience with

sharing and hearing stories (508). Telling a story provides the emotional context necessary for

UX design and contributes to the product’s image. One library’s academic website serves as an

example of storytelling in action. The website provides resources for people working on research

projects, and when the design team constructs a story about someone writing a research paper, it

focuses on the steps: coming up with an idea, researching, writing, and sharing. From these steps,

the team structures the website by following those taken in the story, resulting in a familiar and

easy to use final product (Fichter and Wisniewski 75).


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In order for a story to have its intended effect, it needs well-developed characters. UX

designers refer to these characters as personas. Designers typically create a persona in order to

represent the targeted group of users as a whole, and include information such as mannerisms

and ambitions. Researchers study real people and formulate the information gathered into a

persona, using it to simulate user-product interactions. Next, the design team gives each persona

a name, age, gender, and background. In order to fully bring the persona to life, designers add

visual elements such as pictures of his face and illustrations of significant things in his life in

order to better represent his personality. In addition to these features, the designer may choose to

use a variety of other traits to describe the persona depending on what information relates to the

project. Designers can utilize the personas every step of the way in order to keep the product

aligned with the needs of the user (Allen and Chudley).

A designer cannot create a perfect product on the first try, but through testing, can easily

pinpoint the flaws. Even after subjecting the product to a test, errors likely remain. Many

designers, not limited to UX, use a process called iterative design when testing products: they

evaluate the product multiple times, analyze the results, and adjust certain elements each time

(Walker 196). Although many designers want to add elements in an attempt to help guide the

user, this method ultimately backfires because additional features distract the user from the main

point (196-197). Iterative design helps designers catch these potential mistakes. If a designer

adds features to help a user, the next phase of testing will reveal that the addition did not help. If

he had only tested the product once rather than multiple times, he would not have discovered that

the solution did not work. Testing a product repeatedly helps designers ensure the solutions work

effectively (197).
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Many methods exist to test products designed with UX. Designers can use reaction cards,

a newer method, to evaluate how a user feels about the product (​MerčUn​ ​and​ ​Žumer​). Out of a

stack of cards with both positive and negative words, the subject chooses the cards he feels best

represent his experience with the product and elaborates on a few of them (​MerčUn​ ​and​ ​Žumer​).

Conducting a focus group provides designers with another way to collect valuable input from

users in a small group discussion setting (Conrad and Alvarez 55). The leader of the group asks

questions to provoke thoughtful discussion that usually revolves around the group’s opinions and

thoughts (55). However, focus groups should not dictate all of the decisions made. Instead,

designers should use focus groups in conjunction with individual observation studies, because

discrepancies often surface between what people say and what they do (57). In fact, no single

evaluation method will ever universally apply to testing. Some methods might need

modifications, and others might work better in conjunction with more than one method

(El-Shimy and Cooperstock 41). Combining theory and data-based research methods results in a

well-rounded approach to design modification. Every instance requires a different combination

of the two, but designers would ideally test using both types of research in some capacity (43).

Empathy, another important part of UX, occurs when the designer unites with the user.

Many confuse empathy with completely taking on all of the emotions of the other person, so

much that it blurs the line between the empathizer and the other person. When used properly, the

unity that results from empathizing can positively impact the final product (Lim). Designers can

empathize to better understand the user and pay more attention to his needs. Often, they focus on

their own preferences when they should really focus on the end user’s preferences (Burke).

Designers should not use empathy solely for the purpose of gaining more knowledge because it
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could lead to its use for the wrong reasons (Lim). Putting people at the center of every product

almost always guarantees an experience that the user enjoys (Burke).

UX design also relies on psychological elements. Humans can feel a broad range of

emotions, and designing for the user means designers specifically try to evoke certain emotions

through the use of their product (Turner 75). In addition to emotion, UX practitioners should

explore all of the different areas of the human mind in order to best appeal to their target

audience. By better understanding how people work, UX professionals can easily create an

engaging experience. Designers can use strategies like font size and type, color, and placement

of information to make a product more approachable and visually appealing to the user. They can

also learn about the way humans process information and use it to their advantage. People get

distracted easily, they want to do as little work as needed to complete a task, and they make

mistakes. UX designers with a psychological background can use this information to their

advantage and create products that complement the natural workings of the mind (Weinschenk).

Without even realizing it, people interact with UX design in many different capacities

throughout the day. This relatively new field contains multiple valuable principles to businesses

and consumers alike. By utilizing the wide variety of UX methods and concepts, designers can

create gratifying experiences that have a lasting and meaningful impact on the end user.
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